October 10, 2009

Don't Let All These Facts About Robber Barons Bore You. They Are True!

You know the movie Citizen Kane? The one based on William Randolph Heast? Orson Welles plays Charles Foster Kane, the newspaper magnate and robber baron. He jealously guards his paper kingdom, hoarding all the nation's periodicals for his own personal profit while secretly pining for his long lost teddy bear, Rosebud.

These are facts.

The Robber Barons ruled the 1800's with their long names and pointed baron hats, robbing from the poor and filling their own coffers. They founded universities and built museums. They owned everything, including the government.

That all ended with the Clayton Anti-Trust Act in 1914. Congress broke up the monopolies and took away their baron hats.

Our list today does not celebrate the greatest captains of industry, but the monopolies themselves. The most famous of the Robber Barons did not necessarily have the best monopolies. Who wants to sit on a huge pile of oil? Or a giant heap of iron ore? These are the guys who, when they took you to check out their garage, really had something to brag about:

#6 James Lewis Kraft

Kraft invented the first processed cheese in 1912. By 1916, he had sold more than 6 million pounds of the very orange, but not very delicious, food like substance. His genius lay not only in the revolutionary industrial process, which allowed his cheese to be canned almost indefinitely, but in the fact that he convinced America that it was actually edible.

The purveyors of traditional cheese found themselves pushed out of the market by Kraft, whom they accused of fraud. They asked the government to regulate his products, and federal guidelines ultimately ruled that the fat and moisture content of pasteurized process cheese must match that of natural cheese. Since Kraft's invention, per capita cheese consumption in the United States has risen from 3 pounds a year to 30. And despite what your senses are telling you, the law says that it is actually cheese.

#5 Benjamin Franklin

When Franklin invented electricity, not only did he usher in a new era of science and technology, he also became insanely wealthy. Even cooler, he wielded his lightning rod like an Olympian God, using it to defeat the British and give birth to the United States of America.

His son, William, not realizing its value, eventually sold his electricity patent to Thomas Edison, allowing the inventor to finally find some value in such devices as the light bulb and the electric toaster.

#4 Cornelius Vanderbilt

Everyone loves the board game Monopoly right? Or at least the idea of the game, because it turns out that actually playing Monopoly is inordinately boring. Well, no robber baron quite captures the flavor of the old board game like Vanderbilt. I mean, he owned all the railroads. Wasn't that the best thing in the game? All four railroads?

Other awesome facts about Vanderbilt: Before he bought all the railroads, he had a monopoly on steam ships. This guy really knew how to get around. In today's dollars, Vanderbilt was the second wealthiest American in history.

To top it off, Vanderbilt's nickname was the Commodore. How cool is that? From now on, everyone has to call me the Commodore.

#3 Burgess Charles Montgomery

Before Mr. Burns became a fixture on American television, Montgomery was the quintessential corporate scoundrel. Because of the dangers inherent in nuclear technology, the US government initially allowed him a monopoly to insure the communists did not get the secret.

Montgomery for a short time had a monopoly on atoms themselves. Of course, the government soon wised up, and the monopoly was revoked. Montgomery secretly sold his atomic secrets to the Russians, for which he eventually went to jail. A very, very rich jail. A jail made of solid gold.

#2 Frederick August Otto Schwarz

Toys. One man owned all the toys in the world. He became rich, and therefore became jaded. He forgot what it meant to be a child. All joy passed from his life. His toys lost their appeal.

Until one day, an orphan boy showed up on the man's door step. The young rapscallion reminded Schwarz of his own childhood. Together they made toys that every boy and girl could love. And Schwarz became even more rich and powerful.

He still lives today, his brain mechanically fused to a toy steam engine, insuring him of eternal life. A life of endless circles and tiny pine trees.

#1 Milton Snavely Hershey

His parents gave him the middle name Snavely. Of course he went on to become a twisted, evil candy magnate. But who cares? He literally lived in the Land of Chocolate, with rivers of chocolate, and chocolate dogs you could eat out of your hands.

Yes, Milton S. Hershey was the greatest Robber Baron in history, wearing his little chocolate hat to steal the candy from babies.

Lyric Of The Day:

Who can take a sunrise
Sprinkle it in dew
Cover it in chocolate
and a miracle or two?

The candyman
The candyman can
The candyman can cause he mixes it with love
and makes the world taste good

Who can take a rainbow
Wrap it in a sigh
Soak it in the sun
and make a strawberry lemon pie?

The candyman?

The candyman
The candyman can
The candyman can cause he mixes it with love
and makes the world taste good

"The Candy Man Can"
-Leslie Bricusse and Anthony Newley

No comments: